Techs appeal

Tech's appeal

A business is only as successful as the people in it. Invest in them and everything else will follow. Thankfully, more firms are waking up to the need to spend money where it matters, and that means training.

One example is the Kia Academy, the Korean brand’s new state-of-the-art training centre at St Modwen Park in Derby. The sprawling 40,000 sq ft bespoke fitted building replaces a facility of the same name in Nottingham, which had been operational since 2012.

But that’s where the similarities end. The new, much larger building is a major investment in the future of the Kia network, filled with workshop and training tools, and a very modern look and feel.

Pass through the entrance to the facility and you could be in a showroom. The Kia Academy has been designed to showcase the ‘Kia Global Store Concept’, with a Kia EV9 taking pride of place in the welcome lobby. The Academy has been designed to accommodate up to 1,500 Kia technicians and apprentices every year, but should demand increase, there is scope for expansion. With the help of training firm Skillnet, between 250 and 300 apprentices will be trained at the Kia  Academy every year, the remainder of the cohort made up of adult learners from within the Kia network.

It’s a tangible example of the importance Kia places on training and ensuring that everyone is given the opportunity to make the most of their career, especially as the automotive sector goes through the shift to electrification.

“It’s important to immerse 16 to 18-year-olds in the Kia network and ensure they have the right training capabilities from the very beginning,” says Kate McLaren, Kia UK’s General Manager, Customer Quality. “We wanted this facility to demonstrate a dedication to electrification and digital learning, which is why, for example, there are 31 screens set up around the workshop floor.”

Future-proofed facilities

The impressive workshop is the heart of Kia’s new building and where the core practical tasks will take place. There are currently 14 vehicle bays along with seven ramps, each boasting a maximum weight limit of 4.2 tonnes. These items were selected with Kia’s forthcoming PBVs (Platform Beyond Vehicles or, more simply, vans) in mind. There is space on the main floor to accommodate further ramps, while retaining walls have been constructed to potentially house a further 10 vehicle bays for on-vehicle learning and inspection.

The training, carried out by one of eight on-site trainers, will be completed in 10 training rooms, with five located on each of the two floors of the building. Four of the training rooms on the lower floor lead straight out onto the workshop, while the ones above provide a view onto it.

After training moved online during COVID, it was important for Kia to go back to face-to-face education, while the creation of a brand new facility, coupled with Kia’s march towards an electrified model range, meant the two elements came together just at the right time.

“Nottingham served us very well for 12 years, and we understood that the new Kia Academy had to be central, with better access for all,” explains McLaren. “Our Derby site is double the size of Nottingham’s, with more capabilities and facilities inside and out.”

This is a reference to the availability of better and more convenient hotels near the academy, which is important for those young learners who may be leaving home for the first time. During their 9am-5pm days on site, the young recruits will have a mixture of classroom and practical learning, with the possibility of evening sessions.

“Aside from the main technical skills and STEM work that will give apprentices the ability to work on Kia cars, we will also have guest lecturers who will teach the younger generations about general health, mental health and other life and soft skills,” McLaren adds.

This blended learning approach has been designed and developed with Skillnet to form what Kia describes as a ‘well-structured pedagogical curriculum, which is modern, fresh and relevant for today’s apprentices and tomorrow’s technicians.’

“Kia is well-known as a progressive automotive manufacturer with a reputation for quality, style and innovation,” explains Eugene Lowry, Managing Director of Skillnet. “These qualities have been used to design bespoke apprenticeships that develop the skills and knowledge needed for the workforce of the future. The inclusion of value added qualifications such as Level 3 Electric Vehicle, hydrogen technologies and first aid at work ensures that not only are we developing future-proof Kia technicians, but we are also developing technicians that meet the needs of the current and future industry.”

The personal touch

Reinforcing the emphasis on digital learning, each of the training rooms features an 86-inch ‘clever touch’ screen, an interactive whiteboard for enhanced learning, while each apprentice is given a laptop.

Smart eyewear that transmits images of the wearer onto screens in the bay is also used, giving apprentices a more informed view of the issues they might encounter. As well as apprentices – which Kia has a minimum of one at each of its retailer locations – adult learners will play a big part at the new Kia Academy.

“We have three technician levels: Certified, Expert and Master Technician, and each dealer has a different talent pool within the business,” explains McLaren. “Kia also works with the dealer teams to ensure there are no knowledge gaps within the network. Product training comes as standard, but we also believe it is important to have a personalised approach, according to the specific needs of each dealer.”

With close to 200 dealers across the country, Kia has big targets for the academy. It’s the base that will feed new talent into its network, while keeping its current employees’ skills up to date. Not only that, it will mean that as electrification takes hold, customers can be confident that aftersales servicing is just as easy as with a combustion vehicle

This is an edited extract from IMI's new MotorPro magazine, received free as part of IMI membership.